Reality TV shows…from The Real World to Survivor to American Idol…rise or fall on the strength of their casting. Put the right mix of personalities together and you can create television magic; make the wrong choices and you can…and will…create television that is hard to slough through.
From the standpoint of putting on a television show, the Idol judges and producers dropped the ball for the most part this season. Don’t get me wrong, some of this year’s contestants are very, very talented…I would buy a CD by Melinda Doolittle tomorrow (while acknowledging that her jazzy singing is probably better suited to the tastes of old duffers like myself rather than the young whippersnappers that Idol producers, and music mogul Clive Davis, want to appeal to) and I like Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks a lot as well (most of the others still in the running all have had their moments as well)…but as television personalities they don’t bring any of the spark that some past Idol contestants brought to the proceedings.
In terms of making a buzz-worthy show, the producers and the judges made only two spot on picks: Antonella Barba and, yes, Sanjaya Malakar. Antonella was the breakout publicity magnet of the early part of the season thanks to the racy photos of her (real and faked) all over the net but she turned into a deer in the headlights onstage as the controversy increased and the judges got snarkier and the viewers mercifully put her out of her misery.
Young Mr. Malakar, on the other hand, has wholeheartedly embraced his turn in the spotlight with an unflagging smile and a dazzling array of hairstyles…he hasn’t allowed his own tepid vocals or the withering scorn of the judges daunt him even a little and he has, in the process, become a pop culture touchstone. No other Idol contestant has stirred up such a passionate firestorm this season…and no other Idol contestant’s name has been on the lips of folks like Howard Stern, Hilary Clinton, and David Letterman (who had the guy who created the infamous Vote for the Worst site on his show last night.) No other contestant has been regularly featured on pop culture shows like The Soup and Best Week Ever. (Even NBC’s Nightly News gave over several of their precious minutes to a feature on Sanjaya a couple of weeks ago.)
Like him or loathe him, you cannot deny the fact that Sanjaya is the face of this season of American Idol (that this apparently irks the judges…especially Simon…is silly since they and the producers are the ones who put him on the show in the first place) and if and when he is voted off there will be precious little that anyone will be talking about when it comes to this season of the show. From a pop culture standpoint, it is indeed, for a brief season anyway, the world of Sanjaya and we’re all just living in it.
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Wednesday night addendum: For some American Idol fans, their long nightmare is over. Sanjaya is gone...just in time for "Idol Pats Itself on the Back"...I mean, "Idol Gives Back"...and somewhere Howard Stern and the Vote for the Worst folks are weeping bitter tears in their beer :-) And so it goes.
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More MKW Blogstuff: Bread and Roses